This is economic development?

Last week, when the Chico City Council was asked for $10,000 to help fund a study on how to gut the prevailing wage for local trade workers, the smell of irony in the council chambers was as distasteful as it was inescapable.

Here was self-appointed economic-development guru Bob Linscheid requesting government assistance for his study to justify lowering the wages of laborers who work on projects that receive government assistance. A recent law requires that any project using any percentage of public funding must pay prevailing wages, which are roughly the same as the union wages.

It was the second time in just less than two years that Linscheid has asked for money for the same study, the progress of which has been underwhelming at best. And rightfully the council denied the request for the second time.

Of the 75 trade wages set by the state Department of Industrial Relations, 58 are based on localized rates and 17 are based on larger regional or statewide rates; those 17 are the ones Linscheid is looking to dismantle. The effort is misdirected. Labor makes up about 18 percent of a typical project’s overall cost. A 10 percent increase in workers’ wages bumps the total project price tag up less than 2 percent.

Since when does economic development include lowering local wages? As the union representatives told the council, when local workers are paid well, they spend more money here, which helps the local economy. If there is no such work available here, the workers and their money leave town.

Butte County has long been a depressed economic region. Now, as the price of housing increases, in no small part because of skyrocketing costs in the Bay Area, why should wages continue to lag so far behind?